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  • "Like Falling Up into a Storybook":Trauma and Intertextual Repetition in Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak
  • Barbara Tannert-Smith (bio)

If, as Roberta Seelinger Trites suggests, children's literature tends to "delegitimize adolescents" (83) by perpetuating an ideology that "directs power away from adolescents and towards adults" (81), then such power redirections are especially acute in the young adult genre. Concurring with Mike Cadden's assertion that novels "constructed by adults to simulate an authentic adolescent's voice are inherently ironic because the so-called adolescent voice is never—and never can be—truly authentic" (146), Chris McGee remarks that any study of the young adult genre should lead us to ask "who young adult novels are written for, what fantasies they fulfill, and what purposes their 'authentic' narrative voices serve" (172; emphasis in the original). This concern about authenticity is further exacerbated in popular young adult trauma fiction,1 which offers the adolescent reader identification with a suffering protagonist and yet also presumes that reader's simultaneous coping ability, a curious duality of reader response that may constitute the disturbing transference of an adult desire onto an "innocent" expected to exhibit both vulnerability and strength, to evince victimization while modeling recovery. More generally, the writing of trauma fiction by adults for younger readers has come to be regarded by some scholars as ideologically problematic.2 Katharine Capshaw Smith, noting how "childhood is a particularly potent site for imagining the ubiquitous traumatized subject" (118), wonders if our offering young people stories that chronicle pain is not the displaced manifestation of a need for adult reassurance. Smith expresses concern that the "dualistic depiction" of the traumatized child in such fiction serves mainly to allay adult anxieties: "If the child is victim, she must turn to adults; if the child is savior, she surpasses adults and her core values—her core identity—remain safe and somewhat untouched by the historical event" (117). Regardless of whether the child is represented as victim or savior, the adult (reader or writer) will in due course be "reassured about the damage that trauma can do to the 'innocent' child" (117). Smith is [End Page 395] especially troubled that we "demand that children recover from trauma—and recover quickly—and our narratives enforce that process" (117). This assertion seems uniquely relevant to the young adult novel in which such narratives emphasize the "recovery" of adolescent protagonists as part of a larger coming of age trope. In this regard, if the young adult trauma novel in particular seeks to convey to an adolescent reader her childishness in relation to lived trauma while simultaneously modeling possible solutions to it, the problem with this new adolescent problem literature is not so much that it is written by adults no longer young themselves and therefore inauthentic, but that it would be compromised ethically. For, as Kali Tal has forcefully reminded us, "literature written about the trauma of others is qualitatively different from literature by trauma survivors" ("Speaking the Language" 217).

Yet, while keeping Tal's injunction always in mind, it may in fact be the case that the degree of this "qualitative" difference requires further analytical consideration, especially in relation to the young adult trauma novel. In the pages that follow, I will argue that a text written by an adult about the trauma of an adolescent protagonist—in this case Laurie Halse Anderson's popular young adult novel Speak—may also initiate a significant psychic reorganization in the writing subject that can be considered traumatic in nature. In her essay "The Adolescent Novel" Julia Kristeva usefully posits an identity formation resembling adolescence that survives into adulthood. For Kristeva this adolescence is not a "developmental stage" so much as an "open psychic structure" (136) that the subject may experience at any stage of life whenever rendered vulnerable and open to that which has been repressed. Further, Kristeva argues that novel writing since Rousseau has been the work of a "perpetual subject-adolescent" with the activities of writing and reading fiction tending to open up the psyche, in a way relocating in writer and reader alike a degree of the adolescent's "state of incompleteness" (139). For Kristeva, the activity of writing...


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pp. 395-414
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